Free bread? Panera Co. to open more pay-what-you-wish eateries - KMOV.com

Free bread? Panera Co. to open more pay-what-you-wish eateries

CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) -- As the first crowd of customers filed into Panera Co.'s nonprofit restaurant here, only the honor system kept them from taking all the food they wanted for free.

Ronald Shaich, Panera's chairman, admitted as he watched them line up that he had no idea if his experiment would work. The idea for Panera's first nonprofit restaurant was to open an eatery where people paid what they could. The richer could pay full price -- or extra. The poorer could get a cheap or even free meal.

A month later, the verdict is in: It turns out people are basically good.

Panera, which operates 1,400 franchised and corporate-owned bakery-cafes across the country, plans to expand the nonprofit model around the nation, opening two more locations within months.

"I guess I would say it's performing better than we even might have hoped in our cynical moments, and it's living up to our best sense of humanity," Shaich said in an interview.

Its cashiers tell customers their orders' "suggested" price based on the menu. About 60 to 70 percent pay in full, Shaich said. About 15 percent leave a little more and another 15 percent pay less, or nothing at all. A handful have left big donations, like $20 for a cup of coffee.

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